genre political

The Days of the Rainbow

“Nico, the son of a noted Chilean philosophy professor, witnesses his father’s arrest while he is teaching a class. Bettini, the father of Nico’s best friend, is a leftist advertising executive who has been blacklisted and is out of work after having been imprisoned and tortured by Pinochet’s police. This doesn’t stop the ministry of the interior from asking Bettini, who is the best in the business, to come up with a plan for the upcoming referendum designed to say ‘yes’ to Pinochet’s next term. But just hours after he has been approached by the right, the head of the opposition makes him the exact same offer.

What is Bettini going to do? Put his life on the line or sacrifice his political convictions? Finally he goes with the left. The next hurdle is finding a slogan that would be approved by the 16 factions that comprise the opposition and who never agree on anything. Whiskey after whiskey, an idea finally emerges.

This is a vivacious tale that examines how advertising and politics come together during the Pinochet regime. But this is also a coming-of-age story where we see through Nico’s experience what it means to grow up in a country where nothing is allowed and almost any move can feel like an earnest act of resistance.”

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Day of the Oprichnik

“One of The Telegraph's Best Fiction Books 2011

Moscow, 2028. A cold, snowy morning.

Andrei Danilovich Komiaga is fast asleep. A scream, a moan, and a death rattle slowly pull him out of his drunken stupor—but wait, that's just his ring tone. And so begins another day in the life of an oprichnik, one of the czar's most trusted courtiers—and one of the country's most feared men.

Welcome to the new New Russia, where futuristic technology and the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible are in perfect synergy. Corporal punishment is back, as is a divine monarch, but these days everyone gets information from high-tech news bubbles, and the elite get high on hallucinogenic, genetically modified fish.

Over the course of one day, Andrei Komiaga will bear witness to—and participate in—brutal executions; extravagant parties; meetings with ballerinas, soothsayers, and even the czarina. He will rape and pillage, and he will be moved to tears by the sweetly sung songs of his homeland. He will consume an arsenal of drugs and denounce threats to his great nation's morals. And he will fall in love—perhaps even with a number of his colleagues.

Vladimir Sorokin, the man described by Keith Gessen (in The New York Review of Books) as "[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius" of late-Soviet fiction, has imagined a near future both too disturbing to contemplate and too realistic to dismiss. But like all of his best work, Sorokin's new novel explodes with invention and dark humor. A startling, relentless portrait of a troubled and troubling empire, Day of the Oprichnik is at once a richly imagined vision of the future and a razor-sharp diagnosis of a country in crisis.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Andi McCraine for the suggestion.)

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

The House of the Dead

“In January 1850, Dostoyevsky was sent to a remote Siberian prison camp for his part in a political conspiracy. The four years he spent there, startlingly re-created in The House of the Dead, were the most agonizing of his life. In this fictionalized account, he recounts his soul-destroying incarceration through the cool, detached tones of his narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov: the daily battle for survival, the wooden plank beds, the cabbage soup swimming with cockroaches, his strange ‘family’ of boastful, ugly, cruel convicts. Yet The House of the Dead is far more than a work of documentary realism: it is also a powerful novel of redemption, describing one man’s spiritual and moral death and the miracle of his gradual reawakening.”

Note: This Penguin Classics translation by David McDuff is the one we recommend. Other translations are often considered poor (e.g., where “the house of the dead” was translated as “the dead house”…how can a house be dead?) or overhyped translators who offer oddly, stilted writing as in the case of the co-translation by Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonskyan who write of an “alive dead house” instead of “a house of the living dead”). Only one note to be aware of with the Penguin Classic translation—read the introduction after reading the novel because it may contain some spoilers as most Penguin Classic intros do.

(A special thank you to book club member, Sheena M. for the suggestion.)

View on Amazon (US) | (UK) 

The Red-haired Woman

“From a Nobel Prize winner, an intense political fable of fathers and sons and the desires that come between them.

On the outskirts of a town 30 miles from Istanbul, a well digger and his young apprentice—a boy fleeing the confines of his middle class home—are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the heat, excavating without luck meter by meter, they develop a filial bond neither has known before. But when the boy catches the eye of a stunning red-haired woman who seems as fascinated by him as he is by her, the events that ensue change the young man’s life forever and haunt him for the next 30 years. A tale of family and romance, of youth and old age, of tradition and modernity, The Red-haired Woman is a beguiling political mystery from one of the great storytellers of our time.

It is both a realist text investigating a murder which took place 30 years ago near Istanbul - and a fictional inquiry into the literary foundations of civilizations, comparing two fundamental myths of the West and the East respectively: Sophocles's Oedipus Rex (a story of patricide) and Ferdowsi's tale of Rostam and Sohrab (a story of filicide).”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

The Time Regulation Institute

“A literary discovery: an uproarious tragicomedy of modernization, in its first-ever English translation

Perhaps the greatest Turkish novel of the 20th century, being discovered around the world only now, more than 50 years after its first publication, The Time Regulation Institute is an antic, freewheeling send-up of the modern bureaucratic state.
 
At its center is Hayri Irdal, an infectiously charming antihero who becomes entangled with an eccentric cast of characters—a television mystic, a pharmacist who dabbles in alchemy, a dignitary from the lost Ottoman Empire, a ‘clock whisperer’—at the Time Regulation Institute, a vast organization that employs a hilariously intricate system of fines for the purpose of changing all the clocks in Turkey to Western time. Recounted in sessions with his psychoanalyst, the story of Hayri Irdal’s absurdist misadventures plays out as a brilliant allegory of the collision of tradition and modernity, of East and West, infused with a poignant blend of hope for the promise of the future and nostalgia for a simpler time.”

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Go, Went, Gone

New York Times Notable Book 2018; MLA Lois Roth Award Winner

An unforgettable German bestseller about the European refugee crisis: “Erpenbeck will get under your skin” (Washington Post Book World)

“Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, ‘one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation’ (The Millions). The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired classics professor who lives in Berlin. His wife has died, and he lives a routine existence until one day he spies some African refugees staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz. Curiosity turns to compassion and an inner transformation, as he visits their shelter, interviews them, and becomes embroiled in their harrowing fates. Go, Went, Gone is a scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis, but also a touching portrait of a man who finds he has more in common with the Africans than he realizes. Exquisitely translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses one of the most pivotal issues of our time, facing it head-on in a voice that is both nostalgic and frightening.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Judy Shenk for the suggestion.)

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Gnarr

"In the epicenter of the world financial crisis, a comedian launched a joke campaign that didn’t seem so funny to the country’s leading politicians . . .

It all started when Jón Gnarr founded the Best Party in 2009 to satirize his country’s political system. The financial collapse in Iceland had, after all, precipitated the world-wide meltdown, and fomented widespread protest over the country’s leadership.

Entering the race for mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, Gnarr promised to get the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park into downtown parks, free towels at public swimming pools, a 'drug-free Parliament by 2020' . . . and he swore he’d break all his campaign promises.

But then something strange started happening: his campaign began to succeed. And in the party’s electoral debut, the Best Party emerged as the biggest winner. Gnarr promptly proposed a coalition government, although he ruled out partners who had not seen all five seasons of The Wire.

And just like that, a man whose previous foreign-relations experience consisted of a radio show (in which he regularly crank-called the White House and police stations in the Bronx to see if they had found his lost wallet) was soon meeting international leaders and being taken seriously as the mayor of a European capital.

Here, Gnarr recounts how it all happened and, with admirable candor, describes his vision of a more enlightened politics for the future. The point, he writes, is not to be afraid to get involved—or to take on the system."

View on Amazon (US) | (UK) | (India)

Down the Rabbit Hole

While more of a novella than a novel at 97 pages, this book was shortlisted for the 2011 Guardian First Book Award and the awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

"A pint-size novel about innocence, beastliness and a child learning the lingo in a drug wonderland. Funny, convincing, appalling, it's a punch-packer for one so small." - Famed author, Ali Smith

"Tochtli lives in a palace. He loves hats, samurai, guillotines, and dictionaries, and what he wants more than anything right now is a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. But Tochtli is a child whose father is a drug baron on the verge of taking over a powerful cartel, and Tochtli is growing up in a luxury hideout that he shares with hit men, prostitutes, dealers, servants, and the odd corrupt politician or two. Down the Rabbit Hole, a masterful and darkly comic first novel, is the chronicle of a delirious journey to grant a child's wish."

View on Amazon (US) | (UK) | (India)

Daring to Drive

Note: After most of the book club had finished reading this book, we found out that it was actually ghostwritten by an American. This is the first book to our knowledge included in our global list which falls into this category & is normally not a book we'd read. However, since it was the book read for the month & then discussed, we've included it here. To read books by a Saudi author, we recommend any of the other 5 on our Saudi book list.

"A ferociously intimate memoir by a devout woman from a modest family in Saudi Arabia who became the unexpected leader of a courageous movement to support women’s right to drive.

Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year fundamentalism took hold. In her adolescence, she was a religious radical, melting her brother’s boy band cassettes in the oven because music was haram: forbidden by Islamic law. But what a difference an education can make. By her twenties she was a computer security engineer, one of few women working in a desert compound that resembled suburban America. That’s when the Saudi kingdom’s contradictions became too much to bear: she was labeled a slut for chatting with male colleagues, her teenage brother chaperoned her on a business trip, and while she kept a car in her garage, she was forbidden from driving down city streets behind the wheel.

Daring to Drive is the fiercely intimate memoir of an accidental activist, a powerfully vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men—and won. Writing on the cusp of history, Manal offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia today. Her memoir is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties, absurdities, and joys of making your voice heard."

View on Amazon (US) | (UK) | (India)

1000 Lashes

"'Badawi’s writings are refreshing ...This slim, but fascinating and informative volume clearly brings home the consequences of our benign neglect of the Saudi totalitarian situation.' - Library Journal

'Raif Badawi's is an important voice for all of us to hear.' - Salman Rushdie

Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, shared his thoughts on politics, religion, and liberalism online. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in prison, and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal, over a quarter of a million U.S. dollars. This politically topical polemic gathers together Badawi’s pivotal texts. He expresses his opinions on life in an autocratic-Islamic state under the Sharia and his perception of freedom of expression, human and civil rights, tolerance and the necessary separation of state and religion."

View on Amazon (US) | (UK) | (India)

State of War

"He saw clearly, immediately, that the man didn't care about the gift's value, didn't care about the gift even, but cared profoundly for the act of receiving as though the gift were a tribute, a confirmation of his self, his being, his reality. He found no pleasure in what he was taking but in the act of taking itself."

An endless festival amidst an endless war is the central theme of this Philippines novel about the Marcos era. Depicting a culture and a country in conflict during a brutal time, this book is a masterpiece and a must-read for all Filipino people.

View on Amazon (US) | (UK) | (Canada)